Daschle is out as Secretary of Health. Speculation has it that Obama's health plan may well suffer as a consequence. It is not my intention to defend Daschle; I simply don't know enough about him to do that. Instead, I'd like to attack the folks who've attacked him.
Commenting on an earlier post of mine, Damon reminded me that there is plenty of hypocrisy in DC still. He's right. The Democrats often talk about the importance of government programs, and funding those with more taxes from the rich than the middle class and then .... well, it turns out that once they get money they are obviously just as reluctant to pay taxes as anyone else. Hypocrisy indeed.
Yet this is noise. Really. Our infant mortality rate is the highest among industrialized nations, even though we spend more on health care than any other country in the world.
The question that Congress should have asked is simple to phrase and hard to discern: will Daschle help to make ours a better health care system? If he can, he will literally save lives. No one stops a fireman as he is about to run into a burning building whether or not he has outstanding parking tickets. We're just happy to have him rescue lives.
George Washington killed representatives of the government that claimed rule over him. He ordered his men to attack British soldiers. There was nothing legal or honorable about this - at least from the standpoint of the British. But this had to be done in order to wrest away independence. No one judges Washington for having killed British soldiers: people judge Washington for having helped to create the most curious and imitated experiment in the history of government.
If Daschle had been able to change our health care system to work better and more affordable for everyone, it would not have mattered whether or not he'd paid his taxes properly. The point is not to appoint a Secretary of Health who has a clean record; the point is to appoint someone able to effect change.
Yet scandal is so much easier to understand than policy. The good news is that we got Spitzer out of politics. He used prostitutes. The bad news is that we're floundering around with regulation and bailout packages that are literally costing us TRILLIONS of dollars. If Spitzer's expertise in financial market and company regulation might have saved us even billions, would his penchant for prostitutes have mattered? If Daschle could save us billions in health care cost, would the fact that he failed to pay thousands in taxes matter?
Until our media does a better job of reporting on policy than scandal, we're probably doomed to watch a parade of policy makers who are careful about not making mistakes rather than reckless about making a difference. Perhaps one reason that change is so hard to effect in DC is that the people who finally get there have learned to be cautious about making waves. It seems that this misses the point.